Can Your Dog Be Killed for Biting Someone?
Your terrier mix Sheba is having a very bad day. She just bit the boy who was all up in her face. His fingers bleeding, he’s shrieking in pain and fear in his mom’s arms. It dawns on you that Sheba is out of date on her rabies vaccination by about two years.
Suddenly, all the justification of why she bit this obnoxious kid fades. The cold realization slaps you wide awake to a much scarier scenario: animal control will be involved as well as this boy’s doctor. The question on everyone’s lips will be, “Is she up to date on her rabies shots?”
You swallow hard, and the boy’s screams recede as your ultimate fear begins wailing like a siren:
Will they euthanize Sheba and cut off her head to check for rabies???”
“Oh God Oh God Oh God!
Where are those rabies papers? What are my chances of pulling this mess out of the fire? Was I a complete fool for following those voices that said she’d be immune for life from her early rabies shot? Who was that again? Dr. Falconer, and who else?
Immunologists, is that who he said? Wasn’t Dogs Naturally Magazine saying “Once and done” is the healthiest way to go for vaccinations? Was that for rabies, too, or just the other vaccinations? Think, damn it, think!”
Long before panic like this sets in, it’s a good idea to have your rabies ducks in a row. Understanding what you’re up against goes a long way towards helping you think clearly. At the time of a dog bite, it’ll be much harder if you’re unprepared.
When Fear Rules Rabies Decisions, Everyone Loses
I saw Sam this week, the two year old German Shepherd who has serious trust issues in his world. Sam’s mom came in to discuss what had been drilled in to her forcefully by two local fauxlistic vets:
Sam only had one rabies vaccine, and even though he got it after he was 6 months old, he needs another ASAP! He’s not legal, and if he bites someone, he’ll be put to death and lose his head for rabies testing.
This fear, instilled by two supposed authorities, prompted a visit with Sam in my clinic. He was a dog who had to be constantly monitored, kept on a short leash with a shock collar to be used if he started getting crazy.
If Sam went too far into wild and crazy land, it became very difficult to bring him back to calm and centered.
He’s highly suspicious of people, barks loudly, lunges and attacks waves in the lake, goes crazy with moving cars, lunging as if to attack them, and gets easily aroused to an excited, squealing state. Sam saw me repeatedly as a pup for a chronic loose stool and a flaky appetite.
If these sound like rabies symptoms to you, well, we’re on the same page.
Animals who have rabies are often highly suspicious and greatly aggravated by water, especially moving water (hence the other name for rabies: hydrophobia). Some will transfer that moving water fear or aggression to things that move or even even shine, like mirrors. In Sam’s case, skateboards and moving cars were close enough to set him into crazy aggressive lunging.
Roxanne learned from a Shutzhund expert to “correct” him (with a shock collar) early on if he was going to the crazy place, or he’d become dangerous and out of control quickly.
You might imagine my concern about this dog getting more rabies influence with another round of rabies vaccination!
Time to Be Smarter Than Your Vet. Again.
The most important question in our visit revolved around this critical question:
Would Sam be put to sleep if he bit someone and was out of date on his rabies vaccination?
That was the message from two different vets in town, and it was stated strongly and authoritatively.
Never mind that Dr. WhiteCoat gets this wrong regularly, and pushes rabies vaccines like he’s somehow been deputized by the state (which he clearly has NOT been), even the “fauxlistic” vets get this wrong.
You know, the ones who are supposed to be thinking outside the box, looking at the bigger picture.
It’s as if rabies is affecting everyone’s clear thinking, much as it clouds that of the rabid animal, causes him to “lose his mind” and bite unthinkingly.
This is yet another situation where you’ve got to do your research and be more knowledgeable than your vet. And smarter than animal control, who’s likely to be more determined to follow the rules without understanding the big picture.
What are the actual rules, and who makes these big, ultimate decisions of life and death for your animal who’s bitten a person?
Call in The Authorities. No, The Real Authorities.
To answer this, we need look to the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, NASPHV. They publish the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control.
That’s the go-to reference for veterinarians, public health officials, vaccine manufacturers, and hopefully, animal control agencies. The report, updated periodically (last in 2016) makes recommendations on rabies vaccination, management of animals exposed to rabies, and management of animals that bite humans. It’s often published by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, USA).
Here’s a quote, taken right from this document, under the pertinent section you can find yourself, titled Part I, B, 6: Management of Animals that Bite Humans.
Regardless of rabies vaccination status, a healthy dog, cat, or ferret that potentially exposes a person through a bite should be confined and observed daily for 10 days from the time of the exposure.”
That’s exactly what happened to my patient Buddy, a couple years back. A story for another time.
How to Use This Information to Protect Your Animal
You well know, if you’ve been following along, that immunologically speaking, your rabies vaccinated animal is highly likely to be immune for life. The closest thing we have to measuring this at present is data from the Rabies Challenge Fund, which proved at least 5 years duration of immunity from two rabies vaccinations. Veterinary immunologist Ron Schultz, Ph.D. has data generated earlier showing antibodies to rabies persisting for 7 years.
I’ve often stated the importance of keeping good records to prove your animal is rabies vaccinated, even if that vaccination is considered “out of date” by official types. The difference between “out of date” and “unvaccinated” for rabies is vast. Here’s what the Compendium states from the same paragraph referenced above:
Any stray or unwanted dog, cat, or ferret that potentially exposes a person to rabies may be euthanized immediately and the head submitted for rabies examination.”
While I don’t see the words “unvaccinated” in this section, I think it may be safe to assume you’ll not have much shelter from the law if your unvaccinated animal bites a person. I’d be happy to be proved wrong on this, so let us know in the comments if you’ve had an unvaccinated animal who bit someone and was spared death by being quarantined for 10 days.
Here’s what I’d do to keep your chances high of not losing your best friend in a dog bite scenario:
- Keep a copy of your rabies vaccination certificate with you, even if it’s “out of date.” That lands your dog in the vaccinated vs unvaccinated group, a desirable status should a bite occur.
- If your dog is a known aggressor, or has a cranky side, keep him in close control at all times in public. This is cheap dog bite prevention that costs only vigilance and a good leash on your part. A muzzle perhaps, if bites just come too easily.
- If your dog is “out of date” by a few years, it could be worth investing in a rabies titer test. While not necessarily recognized by all governing bodies, if there’s a positive number (over 0.1 = “protective” to the CDC), you’ve got more proof to offer that rabies is highly unlikely to be the cause of the bite.
- Roxanne gets the credit for this one: Print out and keep a copy of the Compendium with you, along with your rabies vaccination certificate and titer results. Don’t be surprised if you’re the only one in the room who knows this stuff! But knowing it and being able to produce a document from CDC are two different things. Keeping a cool head and confidently providing documents like this will get you far.
Alright, Let’s Roll. And Let’s Be Careful Out There.
That sage advice, given daily by sergeant Phil Esterhaus of Hill St. Blues, is useful when you’re daring to question authority for the good health of your animal.
Which I think you need to do these days. Let’s face it, there’s a whole lot of advice, admonishments, and recommendations coming at you in the name of “prevention” that can cause ill health.
We in homeopathic veterinary practice see those outcomes daily.
True prevention means thinking outside the box and taking responsibility for your animal yourself.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever been involved in a bite situation and what you learned from it.